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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Gators ready to roll against South Florida

NCAA Regionals begin in Gainesville with in-state matchup

Florida catcher Nathan Hickey slides into second base March 13 against Jacksonville University. Florida takes on USF Friday in the first round of the NCAA Regional.
Florida catcher Nathan Hickey slides into second base March 13 against Jacksonville University. Florida takes on USF Friday in the first round of the NCAA Regional.

Conference championship week has come and gone, now 64 teams across the country across 16 different regions fight to keep their seasons alive. The first round will feature a battle between two in-state neighbors in Florida Ballpark’s debut postseason.

The No. 15 Florida Gators go face-to-face with the South Florida Bulls on Friday afternoon to kick off the Gainesville Regional.

South Florida (28-27) limps into the national tournament with an average regular-season record, but the team hit its stride in the American Athletic Conference tournament. The Bulls went 5-1 in the tournament after being projected to finish last in the conference.  They overcame Central Florida to win the AAC crown. 

The Gators and Bulls met in a three-game series in March 2020 when Florida swept USF out of the series and outscored them 26-7.

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan immediately went to junior right-hander Tommy Mace after the opening matchup was announced to alert him that he’ll throw the first pitch Friday.

The ace from Tampa, Florida will start on the hill for the 15th time this season and carries a 6-1 record, 109 strikeouts and a 4.32 ERA into Friday’s opener.

Mace and the rest of his teammates went through all the fundamentals this past week and feel prepared for their first opponent. Freshman third baseman Nathan Hickey said the Gators have been pushing to get themselves back into the offensive swing of things.

“Since we didn’t hit that well against Tennessee, I think that’s one thing that we’ve kind of focused on,” Hickey disclosed. “Taking better at-bats, being more aggressive at the beginning of the counts, stop letting the first strikes go by. Those are pitches that we know we can hit consistently and with quality.”

Florida’s sessions in the batting cages will be battle-tested against USF right-hander Jack Kasiak. The redshirt freshman from Spring Hill, Florida, steps on the mound with a subpar 6-7 record but a strong 2.92 ERA.

Mace will throw the first pitch after pre-game ceremonies at noon Friday. The Regional will be broadcast on the SEC Network as well as over the airwaves on WRUF 850 AM/98.1 FM in Gainesville.

Contact Jesse Richardson at jrichardson@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352


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